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Released 19th November 2021.
Sting begins each day with a swim. “A religious morning ritual for me,” is how he describes it. “It’s hydrotherapy.”
“There’s a whole lot of water flowing through this album,” he says about the 14 brand new songs that form the body of work he’s christened The Bridge. “All of the songs on the album are bridged by people being between worlds,” the musician continues.
Here, then, is another bridge: as well as pushing elegantly forward, this is an album that intriguingly stretches backwards, showcasing the many different stages and genres through which Sting has journeyed in an unparalleled career. The Bridge feels like a greatest hits, but one where all the songs are brand new. A record that is at once modern and upbeat but rooted in Sting’s lifelong musical and lyrical passions.
As he puts it: “These songs are between one place and another, between one state of mind and another, between life and death, between relationships. Between pandemics, and between eras – politically, socially and psychologically, all of us are in the middle of something. We need a bridge.”
Sting recorded the album over the last year with a coterie of trusted musicians beaming into his studio remotely. That easy sense of musical camaraderie, connection and kinship is on full display in the lead single ‘If It’s Love’, an unabashed pop song lent wings by a whistled refrain, joyful handclaps, and uplifting brass and strings.
The urgently staccato, electric guitar-driven ‘Rushing Water’ soars with Sting’s trademark melodic invention and vivid imagery. The decidedly romantic ‘For Her Love’ is a delicate pledge that harkens back to some of Sting’s classic ballads.
Firstly, in March 2020, Sting needed a bridge home. Like the rest of us, the onrushing pandemic necessitated a pause; a retreat to heart and hearth.
“I’ve been travelling the world for years,” Sting says, “so the idea of being in one place for a few months, in the same bed, was strange to me. So, I had to get used to it. And if I’m ever stuck in one place, I sit with my guitar and escape into my head.”
International lockdowns, he continues “allowed me to go into my work. I have a studio, so I would still go to work every day. But I didn’t know when this pandemic would end, whether I’d ever go back on tour again. So, my entire life was now in the studio.”
At the same time, that appealed to an artist who, over the course of selling 100 million albums and touring the world multiple times in a near-five-decade career, has always prized the discipline of working. So, the day after the beginning of his enforced shore leave, Sting got to it. He clocked into his home studio at 10.30 that morning, stayed till evening, and determined to do that every day thereafter.
Even as the songs emerged, it took a while for an album to swim into shape. “I wasn’t hurrying. But for a long time, I had little fragments, and it wasn’t coherent. Until I stood back.”
There was, he realized, a “thread, although I didn’t know this as I was writing it. For many months I was just writing separate songs. And the album as a whole didn’t make much sense. Until one day I started to look at it in a much more global way.”
As this lover of words points out, the meaning of “bridge” contains multitudes. It links things, ideas, cultures, banks of a river. It’s a place you steer a ship from. It’s also a route into the past, and so it was that Sting found himself considering his own foundations - the music and the places that reside within his very DNA.
Helping initiate the creation of the song ‘The Book of Numbers’ – as he also did on The Bridge songs ‘Harmony Road’ and ‘The Bells of St. Thomas’ – is Dominic Miller. He and Sting have enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration, both as bandmates and writing partners. “When we meet, Dom will often bring a set of chords or a guitar motif that soon stimulates an idea for a song. Exactly how this process works is still something of a puzzle to me.”
That said, Sting can breakdown the genesis of ‘Harmony Road’, a jazzy jam that artfully combines fever-dream, social realism and autobiography. It began with he and Miller extracting 16 bars from a track called ‘Étude’ on the latter’s 2019 album Absinthe.
“We looped the 16-bar section as I improvised a melody, anticipating that the result would point us toward a story. One of my mentors and longtime inspirations, the Scottish musician Jack Bruce, titled his 1971 album Harmony Row in a nod to a rundown Glasgow street near to where he was born. I was raised next to a similar Victorian tenement in Wallsend, and the unintentional civic irony of the naming of such places was too much to resist. The Animals declaring ‘we gotta get out of this place’ back in 1965 no doubt struck a deep chord with this restless Geordie as well.”
Further demonstrating his interest in, and mastery of, myriad genres is ‘Loving You’. What Sting describes as the song’s “stark musical setting” of electronic beats and ambient synth washes comes courtesy of Maya Jane Coles, the Anglo-Japanese techno DJ, producer, remixer and engineer. “I added a little bass while Melissa Musique and Gene Noble lent their wonderful vocals, and the story of jealousy and hurt unfolded like a poisoned flower waiting for the sweet waters of reconciliation to rain down.”
Rounding out this kaleidoscope of future-facing ideas, influences and images is a contribution from legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis, another frequent Sting collaborator and another call back, on his 15th solo studio album, to his first.
That circle of trust, of a group of likeminded musicians pulling in a myriad of brilliant directions but with one accord, is another solid foundation for The Bridge. As a year’s worth of travel restrictions bit deeper, Sting also dug deeper, calling in – remotely – collaborators in France, Italy, America. “This album was made at distance. Nonetheless, what I’m singing about is what comes out of my head and my heart. The feelings are not small. They’re big emotions for me.”
But because of that, he used musicians with whom he’d collaborated before – Dominic Miller, Branford Marsalis, Melissa Musique, Gene Noble, Josh Freese, Manu Katché, Jo Lawry, Fred Renaudin, Peter Tickell, Julian Sutton, Laila Biali, Gavin Brown, Shaggy, Donal Hodgson, Tony Lake and Martin Kierszenbaum with whom he co-produced the album. So supported, Sting knew The Bridge – mixed by 4-time Grammy Award winner, Robert Orton - could soar high and span the world – and also link directly, deeply, into what he was trying to say, and how he was saying it. As this artist with multiple albums, soundtracks, live recordings and collaborations on his CV knows, “the most important thing on a record is the sound of a voice. And the vocals on this record are very close – they’re like I’m inside your head.”
Inside our head, but also abroad in the world, and drawing us together in a time of isolation, atomisation, yearning and new kinds of connection. And while we might still not be able to physically bridge certain gaps – geographical, social, emotional – musically we can.
Reflecting on the souls inhabiting this vitally *now* set of songs, Sting concludes that “those people are all between worlds. They’re not settled. They’re going from one thing to another. This album is about trying to make that journey. And I hope people will find something in this record that helps them navigate that.”
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